Foula by Shelia Gear

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

On my long list of places that I would love to visit given a small fortune and no pandemic, is Shetland. From what I have seen in photos, it is a bleak and remote part of the world that also looks utterly beautiful. It is not the only set of islands on the north coast of Scotland, to the west is the tiny isle of Foula. It is only 20 miles away and looking at the satellite images of it, it might as well be on another planet.

Watching the eternal surge and hush of the sea we were lost in its timelessness – a hundred thousand years before us, a hundred thousand years after we were gone, so it would keep rolling in.

The people that live there are tough and resourceful and used to dealing with everything that the Atlantic throughs at them every single day of the year. The weather here is relentless. Sheila Gear wanted to paint a picture of just what life was like there over the course of a year. She was an incomer and married to one of the island’s crofters. Not only did she help on the croft, but there had three young children and a myriad of other responsibilities for the land.

Not only does she write about the things that they have to do over the course of the year, but she tells how the people there used to cope in the past. But this is mostly about the croft, the hard work in the ever so brief summer as they race to get the hay in before winter returns, the struggle to make sure that the lambs are safely born and they have an income for the year. She also talks about the lack of support from the government and how they feel forgotten on their tiny patch of land.

Sit here and scan the distant horizon where sea and sky meet in a far silver line, let your mind roam free; here you will find a glimpse of understanding of life.

Unlike a lot of books about people revelling in Island life, this is a book that does not shy away from dealing with living in a place as remote as this. It is one tough life that they live on Foula. But even though it is bleak there, you can find beauty, and Gear’s prose does just that, picturing evocative moments in the breaks in the weather as well as the particular beauty of the light. It did feel like a philosophical outlook at certain points but she does not hold back on hold bloody difficult it is there. It is a wonderful read about someone who is deeply rooted and in love with the landscape of the place.

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6 Comments

  1. Liz Dexter

    Oh, Michael will be pleased, two of his books reviewed on the same day! I just did Letters on Shetland which I assume you’ve also read. This is one I have my eye on, too, as I love books about islands. What great work he’s doing with this imprint in particular!

    • Paul

      That is good for him. I haven’t heard of it, let alone read it! He does seem to be a tiny version of Little Toller

      • Liz Dexter

        You’d enjoy Letters on Shetland, to, I think!

        • Paul

          I think so too, looking at it

  2. mikewalmer

    Thanks so much Paul. Couldn’t agree more with you about the poetry/evocation in Gear’s prose – a great complement to the tough story she tells. Grateful.

    • Paul

      You’re very welcome, Michael. Thanks for sending me a copy to read

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